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Garden design principals, tips and tricks for creating your dream garden or landscape that blooms in all four seasons. Design a dream garden that’s as unique and creative as you are!

5 ways to create unity and flow in your landscape

5 ways to create unity and flow in your landscape

How does your garden FLOW? Many beginner gardeners struggle when trying to create unity and flow in their existing garden. One of the most common problems I see is the lack of connection from one part of the garden to another. For example: These are my foundation shrubs. Over here are my roses. This area is where I plant my annuals.

But, to create flow and unity in your landscape, you need to learn how to guide a person’s eye from one garden area to another.

How can you connect these areas?
What are the best ways to draw into your garden?
Or from your foundation plantings over to your roses?
How can you peak their curiosity and sense of wonder?

Here are some easy ways to begin creating unity and flow in your landscape.

Use curves in landscape bed edges

You can use curved lines in your hardscaping or in your garden bed edges to create a better flow and unity in your garden. Curves can do a few things. First, they create continuity between your different garden areas, or garden “rooms” as I like to call them.

If you have a shade garden on the side of your house and a sunny spot in the front, try adding a curve that wraps around the edge of your house and “combine” the two beds together. This is a great way to begin uniting the different garden beds you’re designing.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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Second, curved lines add a sense of depth to your garden. When the curves “pinch in” it can create little nook in your garden. A viewer from a particular angle may not be able to see what’s in the nook, so it will help to lead them deeper into your garden.

When a curved line “bows out” it’s a great place to add a focal point of attention that will make them want to take a closer look. In addition, the bow is going to hide the areas of the garden that are “around the bend,” creating more mystery in your garden. This will peak the viewer’s curiosity; they’ll want to see what’s around the corner.

This bluestone walkway seems to be endless, disappearing around the bend. Don’t you wonder what lies beyond? (Source)

Quick Tip: My post on Landscape Layering is really helpful in understanding how to build up your garden beds, first. And, if you’re new to garden design, I’d also recommend checking out these beginner landscaping tips for getting started.

Repetition increases flow in your landscape

Repetition of elements throughout the landscape is another great way to create unity in your  landscape. You can repeat a plant, a color, a texture, a shape or even a material (like wood, stone or glass). Repetition creates flow from one area of your garden to another.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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Repeat the same element over and over

One way to use repetition in your landscape is to add the same element over and over in different areas of your garden. This helps a viewer’s eye to bounce from one garden to the next. Another way to use repetition is by repeating elements in groups. Adding a group of the same plant, the same color but different plants, or the same planting scheme creates a sense of proximity. It also increases harmony and unity in your landscape design.  This can be achieved through drifts.

Plant in drifts

Basically, drifts are when you group plants or a series of plants together in a bunch. Usually, drifts are created in odd numbers like 3, 5 or 7. Drifts of plants are a great way to move a person’s eye around your garden.

You can plant your drift groups from left to right, then repeat this grouping in different area of your garden. Or, you can plant your drifts front to back within the garden bed, then repeat in other areas. If you plant front to back, you’ll not only create unity in your landscape design, but can lead a person’s eye deeper into the layers of your garden.

Quick Tip: To learn more about repetition in the garden, check out my posts about creating color schemes and using plant texture in your garden design.

Create paths to flow through your landscape

Creating paths is another great way to create a sense of flow and unity between the different areas of your garden. A path can mean a literal walking path made of grass, brick, stone, mulch, gravel or anything else you can think of.

A path can also be a bit more abstract; like a mass planting of groundcover that flows from one part of your garden to another. Or a dry river bed. Or a flowing stream. Creating a connection between the spaces of your garden using a path visually moves the viewer’s eye through your landscape.

Quick tip: Check out my Garden Paths and Walkways board on Pinterest to get some creative inspiration and garden path ideas you can try at home.

Add focal points to transition between spaces

Focal points are another great trick to create a sense of flow in your landscape. This sounds counter-intuitive, because essentially focal points create a “stop” and interrupt the flow. But, what focal points also do is naturally create a space to introduce a transition in your garden from one area to another.

Focal points can be bold to create a dramatic statement. They can also be a bit more subtle. Let’s go over examples of both bold and subtle focal points to get a better understanding of this concept.

Bold vs. subtle focal points

An example of a bold focal point is a gate. Gates can be aesthetically useful if your garden feels too “predictable.” The gate will create interest and a sense of curiosity in the viewer. I wonder what’s beyond there? So, if you have two distinct garden spaces that you’re having trouble “connecting,” perhaps you should try a gate to stop them in their tracks. It’s a great way to create unity between two very different spaces.

Focal points can be a bit more subtle, too. Adding a subtle focal point along a pathway where your garden naturally “bows out” adds unexpected interest to your garden. It also creates a natural transition point between two different areas of your garden that don’t seem like they belong together.

For example, adding a large boulder or even a large planter pot will naturally lead a person to that area of your garden. They will likely stop to look at the vignette you’ve created, then be able to move forward into a different area of your garden without the jarring transition.

If you think of your garden as a paragraph, a focal point is the punctuation at the end of each sentence. It will create a stopping point, but the same “thought” can continue in the next sentence as you finish reading the paragraph.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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Whether you want to create a subtle or bold statement with your focal points, it’s an opportunity to add something unique and unexpected to your garden. Focal points are the chance to give your garden some serious personality while creating a smooth transition and increased flow in your landscape.

Quick Tip: If you want to learn more about focal points, you may want to purchase my Focal Points ebook. It will teach you how to position focal points within your garden. There’s also a lot more give you a lot more ideas and examples to try in your own garden!

My Focal Points Ebook will teach you how to position focal points in your garden and is filled with helpful examples to get you started.


Take your landscape vertical for improved flow

A great small garden idea is to use a trellis or fence behind a garden bed.

Many gardens I see fall flat because they lack vertical interest– elements that are at “eye-level” or above. But going vertical is another great way to create more flow in and unity in your landscape. (Source)

Try adding vines, an arbor, an interesting tree or another tall element near the back of your garden that plays off the colors or other materials you are using within your garden beds.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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Why does this work, exactly? When you create focus that’s higher off the ground than your other plantings, it will get a lot of attention. That’s because vertical elements can be seen from many different angles and areas of your garden. So, if you are lacking time or budget, I’d recommend trying this trick first. Vertical elements are workhorses when uniting your space.

Remember, tying in your vertical element with a color, texture or material you are using in other areas of your garden is important. It’s one of the quickest and easiest ways to create unity and flow across your entire landscape.

Wrapping Up

Unity and flow to connect different garden beds in your landscape together. There are a few ways you can achieve better flow:

  • create curves in your garden beds
  • repeat a plant, a color or an element throughout your garden
  • create paths between different spaces
  • use focal points for transitions between garden areas
  • adding a vertical element in the back of your garden

Adding a vertical element is one of the fastest and easiest ways to improve the flow in your garden. But, make sure that it ties in with the other colors and elements in your garden. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned gardener, try to think about your garden as a whole. Work on uniting your spaces. Creating better flow will take your landscape from predictable to unique and curiosity-provoking.

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5 ways to create unity and flow in your landscape
Plant Texture: for a garden you hafta touch

Plant Texture: for a garden you hafta touch

If you’re looking for a subtle but powerful way to set your garden apart from the ordinary, plant texture is where it’s at.

But what exactly does it mean to use plant texture in the garden?

There are two different “levels” of texture when it comes to plants: visual and tactical.

Visual texture refers to the visual appearance of the plant, overall. For example, is the overall plant fluffy or spikey?

Contrast plant textures like fluffy and spikey plants
Contrast plant textures by combining soft, fluffy foliage with sharp and spikey foliage.
Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

Tactical texture refers to the visual characteristics of parts of the plant (like the flowers, stems and leaves).

Visual Plant Texture

Visual plant texture is really the more important of the textures when it comes to actually designing your landscape. The reason that visual texture is so important is because when you are designing a garden, the way your plants interact with one another is really important. Without enough repetition and contrast of texture, color and form, your garden design doesn’t work.

So what does work? Mixing up the visual texture of the plants that are near one another. The visual texture of a plant can be classified into one of three categories: coarse, medium or fine. If we use a walnut broken into pieces as an example,

  • Coarse texture = a walnut broken in half
  • Medium texture = a walnut cut into quarters
  • Fine texture = a walnut chopped into small pieces

Visual texture in the mixed border

In a mixed border or layered landscape, you need to have a variety of textures to create visual depth in your garden beds. If all of your plants have a fine texture, they will begin to blend together like a blog.

From a distance, a viewer wouldn’t be able to discern where one plant begins and another ends. By placing plants of varying (coarse, medium and fine) texture next to each other, no one gets lost in the crowd.  

A lot of people ask me, “Amy, how do I know if my garden has enough texture contrast?”

This is where your camera comes in handy. If you take pictures of your garden beds then turn the photos to black and white, you’ll quickly tell whether you have enough visual plant texture.

Let’s look at this example to understand how this works.

Is there enough plant texture?
Adding some bigger, bolder foliage to break up these two plants would help a lot! (Source)

While these two plants have color contrast, they both have a medium texture. But, it’s difficult to tell in the full color version of the photo. When you turn it to black and white, it’s really clear that both of these plants have the same visual texture– because they blend together like a big blob.

Fixing visual texture issues

Adding some different textured foliage (coarse or fine) to break up these two plants would help a lot! (Source).

Improvement to visual plant texture
The addition of coarse and fine visual plant texture improves this design.

I Photoshopped (crudely) a way to improve upon this scene by adding more texture. Hostas in the front of the photo add a coarse texture to the mix while a Slowmound Mugo Pine (Source) with a fine texture breaks things up.

Mixing up the visual plant texture is a common way to add interest to your garden. If you want to learn more about getting started with your camera, check out my post, How to start landscaping your yard (when you don’t know anything).

Tactical Plant Texture

Tactical plant texture is basically the way the plant feels when you touch it. For many plants, it is the foliage that has the most notable texture. For others, the bark, seed head, flower or even its stem could be the source.

Plant texture is a bit more subtle than color, but that doesn’t mean it’s not powerful. Texture has the ability to create a physical reaction — it makes you want to reach out and touch the plant! Ask yourself these types of questions to get a better understanding of plant texture in your own garden:

  • Is the plant feathery soft or sharp and spiky?
  • Are its leaves shiny or matte?
  • Is the bark smooth or rough?
  • Are the seed heads furry or coarse to the touch?

There are so many plant textures to choose from and you can have a ton of fun with this in your garden. It’s actually one of my favorite ways to add a bit of whimsy and surprise to my own gardens and really sets my design apart from other landscapes in my neighborhood

How to use plant texture to improve your garden

Plant texture may seem like a subtle thing, but it really is another design tool in your bag that can take your garden to the next level. Without enough texture, your garden can fall flat. But, with too much, things can get real crazy, real fast!

There are two ways you can use plant texture in your garden:

  • Use similar plant textures to create repetition and cohesiveness in your garden.
  • Contrasting plant textures will add more contrast and interest.

Repeating plant texture in your garden

Repeating similar textures, even if the the plants are different colors, will help to unite your garden design. When repeating a texture, the easiest thing you can do is repeat the same plant within your garden. Many gardeners like to plant in “drifts” which means they plant a group of the same plant in a multiple of 3, 5 or even 7. By repeating the plant in the garden, you are also repeating the plant’s texture and color. This is a really easy and effective way to unite your garden beds.  When you’re starting out, this is the simplest way to make your garden look good and make it look like you know what you’re doing.

Garden Design by Thomas Rainer. (Source)

There’s absolutely NO SHAME in repeating the same plant over and over again (drifts) in your landscape design. As a beginner it’s an easy way to create cohesiveness. But, professional gardeners also do this often to create repetition in color, texture and form. Pictured above is catmint, salvia and mexican feather grass, all adding unique plant textures to this garden design by Thomas Rainer.

When repetition gets boring

But, for gardeners who love to buy and try new plants, this can be really boring and monotonous. If you fall into this category, using plant texture is a great way to thoughtfully introduce new plants into your garden beds. Now that you understand what texture is, you can start to identify what else may look good in your garden. If you are looking to create more cohesiveness in your garden, choose plants that have a similar texture (bonus if they are the same color!) to add to your planting.

Bonus Tip: Here are some tricks for combining your plants using contrast in texture, color and form.

Repeating plant texture in your garden

For a “bumpy” texture try planting aloe succulents along the edge of rough and bumpy bricks (ok, not plant texture but it still works). The prickly texture of sea holly matches the prickly texture of the blue spruce in the background. Or try adding smooth, grey river rock to a bed of smooth textured succulents.

Contrasting plant texture in your garden

We’ve already discussed how to use contrasting textures of coarse, medium and fine to help plants in your garden to “unblob” together. You can also achieve contrast with tactical texture to create really interesting and unique combinations in your garden. Finding unique ways to play with tactical plant texture is a more subtle way to liven up areas of your garden that feel bland.

Contrasting plant texture in your garden

Try these combinations: ‘blue star’ juniper and lambs ear (Source – my garden); purple delphinium and yellow yarrow (Source); mexican feathergrass and ‘caradonna’ meadow sage (Source).

Unusual sources of plant texture

Take your garden design up a notch by incorporating unusual sources of plant texture into your landscape. You don’t always have to use the blooms or the foliage of the plant. Lets explore some unusual sources of texture that can really add that “wow” factor to an otherwise ordinary garden!

Seedheads for texture

When your flowers stop blooming, don’t be so quick to deadhead them. Incredible texture emerges from many common plants AFTER they bloom/ Don’t be so quick to deadhead, because seedheads are one of my favorite sources of texture.

Seedheads add plant texture in your garden

Alliums, post-bloom, turn into stalks of little green balls that can really add interest to your garden (Source). The ‘hello yellow’ blackberry lily morphs into these little seedpods that look like actual blackberries floating in your garden about 3-4′ in the air (Source)! And finally, certain varieties of clematis vine blooms morph into beautiful, silky, moppy seedheads in late summer to early fall (Source).

Edibles & Herbs for texture

The use of edibles and herbs is common in cottage garden design.
In cottage gardens, colorful ornamentals, edibles, herbs and medicinals are all mixed together in one garden bed. These plantings utilize every available space, creating a feeling of charm and “organized mess.”

7 tips for choosing the RIGHT plants

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What’s great about this garden style is that you can find incredible sources of plant texture in edibles and herbs. Some of the most unique textures you’ll ever find are actually edible.

edibles and herbs to add unique plant texture to your cottage garden

Try cabbage (Source), borage (Source), chives (Source), artichokes (Source), kale (Source) and dill (Source) for magical plant texture you’ll want to reach out and touch. While you’re down there, you can pick some for tonight’s dinner, too!

Wrapping Up

There are two different types of plant texture: visual and tactical. Visual plant texture refers to the texture of the overall plant and can be classified into the categories of coarse, medium and fine texture. When create a garden design, visual texture is extremely important. Using tactical plant texture in your garden is a more subtle way to add interest and take your garden design to the next level. Look to bark, seed heads, flowers and stems to explore different pieces of tactical texture. Finally, you can use repeating textures to unite your garden beds. Or, you can choose contrasting textures to create focal points within your garden. Some unusual sources of plant texture you can try are from seedheads, edibles and herbs.

Sue’s post about weaving your garden is a great overview of plant texture. She’s also got a lot of beautiful photos!

Using plnat texture for a stand-out garden design
Don’t forget to pin this post for later!

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Simple Secrets for Creating Garden Color Schemes

Simple Secrets for Creating Garden Color Schemes

Many beginner gardeners don’t think much about garden color schemes other than they want a lot of color — the more the better. Choosing too many colors for your garden can result in a wild mess that you likely won’t be happy with.

Luckily, working with garden color schemes is not as intimidating as you think. When you plan your home decor, you rely on color to tie your room together. When you get dressed in the morning, you pick your clothing based on color schemes.

There are no garden color schemes in this design

Why do we treat our gardens so differently… combining colors together that we’d never put in our homes or on our bodies?

When deciding on a color scheme for your garden, take cues from your clothes and your home décor. What colors do you like to wear or use when decorating? These are the colors that you’re drawn to and will give you a sense of what you may like in your garden, too!

Before we get “into the weeds,” I want to give you some quick wins if you’ve never even considered using a color scheme in your garden. It’s easy for me to say “choose a color scheme and stick with it.” But… I know it can be overwhelming to choose colors if you are a beginner gardener. So, here are some of my tips for selecting a garden color scheme:

  • Decide on the energy of your garden: Depending on the color “temperature” the colors in your garden can evoke different energy. So, it’s important to first decide what type of feeling you want to convey with your garden.
    • Do you want a garden that’s relaxing and calm? For peaceful gardens, you want to keep the color temperature cool and the contrast to a minimum. I’d recommend blue, purple, blue green and as a bonus… white!
    • Do you want a garden that’s vibrant and energizing? For exciting gardens, keep the color temperature warm and amp up the contrast. I’d recommend red, orange and yellow and yellow-green.
  • Choose ONE color at first: To get started, all you need to do is choose one single color — that’s it! Pick your favorite color and this will be the beginning of your color scheme! Keep it simple.
  • Research native plants in this color: Next you’ll want to find some plants that have the color you’re focusing on. The garden planning worksheets in my Printable Garden Planner Kit are great for getting these ideas down onto paper.
  • Choose a design style for your garden: Are you looking for a cottage, traditional or a modern garden style? Decide on the style that you’ll use to give you a better idea of how to arrange your plantings.
  • Hone your garden over time: Once you get the base color, style and feeling in place, you can begin to incorporate more plant combinations, colors and focal points into your garden beds. Take it one step at a time!

Planning your color palette before you start choosing plants will save you a lot of headaches – and money buying the wrong plants. Think about your garden in terms of color schemes and plant combinations rather than quantity of colors. This is pretty easy to do once you learn a little bit about color theory and settle yourself into your chosen color scheme. This is done using the color wheel.

Quick Tip: If you are interested in learning more about creating a 4-season garden, check out my post about Landscape Layering.

Understanding the Color Wheel

Before your eyes roll back in your head or you click away from this page… try to bear with me. The color wheel is not that intimidating, I promise!

Color wheel for garden color schemes

There are 12 colors on the basic color wheel and these are divided into 3 primary colors, 3 secondary colors and 6 tertiary, or intermediate, colors.

Primary Colors

The three primary colors are red, blue and yellow. Each and every OTHER color on the color wheel is created from mixing these colors together. This means that if you had only red, blue and yellow tubes of paint, you would be able to mix those colors together to make the other 9 colors. In fact, combining the 3 primary colors in addition to black and white (as tints) is how every other color in the world is created!

Secondary Colors

Mixing two of the three primary colors together in 50/50 combinations creates the three secondary colors of the color wheel:

  • Red + Blue = Purple
  • Red + Yellow = Orange
  • Blue + Yellow = Green

Tertiary Colors

Furthermore, a 50/50 combination of a primary color with its neighboring secondary color will  create tertiary colors (also called intermediate). These make up the final 6 colors we’ll be talking about:

  • Red + Orange = Vermillion (Red-Orange)
  • Red + Purple = Magenta (Red-Purple)
  • Blue + Purple = Violet (Blue-Purple)
  • Blue + Green = Teal (Blue-Green)
  • Yellow + Orange = Amber (Yellow-Orange)
  • Yellow + Green = Chartreuse (Yellow-Green)

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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With just a little bit of knowledge of how the color wheel works, you can use it to create amazing garden color schemes. Let me show you how!

Garden color schemes and how to use them

If you’re following along, you’ve already chosen the “main” color for your garden color scheme. Using what you know about the color wheel, you can start to hone that single color into a beautiful palette. There’s no rush here! Starting with just one single color is totally ok at first.

Using the color wheel, you are able to create all different kinds of garden color schemes that will evoke different types of moods. The three types of color schemes I’m going to cover are:

  • Analogous: three colors next to each other on the color wheel
  • Complementary: two colors opposite each other on the color wheel
  • Complex: a set of analogous colors plus the complimentary color opposite them on the color wheel. Basically, combine the two together 🙂

Analogous Color Schemes

Analogous color schemes use colors that are right next to each other on the color wheel in groups of 3’s. Because there isn’t too much contrast between the three colors, they sort of just “blend” together in a really harmonious way. It’s very pleasing to the eye (and easy to do)!

Analogous garden color scheme with blue, violet and purple
Analogous (Blue, Violet and Purple) Asters – Image Credit

The photo above is a great example of an analogous color scheme.

If you use violet as your primary garden color, add to it various shades of purple flowers and blue flowers. When you combine purples and blues in the garden, you get a harmonious, analogous color scheme that works every time.

Complementary Color Schemes

On the color wheel, each primary color will be directly across from a secondary color. These “opposites” are called complementary colors. The way my high school art teacher explained this to me is that complementary colors, when placed right next to each other, make each color appear its most vibrant and bright. Complementary colors are great for adding a “pop” to your garden. Here are some examples of vibrant, exciting complimentary garden color schemes:

Yellow + Purple

Yellow-Purple Complimentary Garden Color Scheme
Complimentary (Yellow and Purple) garden color scheme Image Credit

A complimentary color scheme of purple and yellow is a very easy combination to try in the garden. There are so many plant choices in this range. And, these opposite colors really pop against each other.

Try the yellow ‘Moonshine’ yarrow (zones 3-9) combined with catmint (zones 3-9) and ‘Blue Queen’ salvia (zones 5-9).

Orange + Blue

Tulips and forget-me-nots in a blue-orange complimentary garden color scheme
Complimentary (Blue and Orange) garden color scheme with tulips and forget-me-nots.

Combining blue and orange in the garden is a vibrant and unique complimentary color scheme that will take people’s breath away. Although it’s more difficult to find true blue flowers to contrast with orange, the results are well-worth the effort for this stand out display.

Create this blue-orange complimentary color scheme at home by combining the beautiful ‘Orange Emperor’ tulip (zones 3-8) with blue forgot-me-nots (zones 5-9) for a high impact combination.

Red + Green

Red Green Complimentary Garden Color Schemes
Complimentary (Red and Green) garden color scheme – Image Credit

Since foliage is green, a red-green complimentary color scheme is one of the easiest to pull off. A lush mix of green leafed plants is the perfect backdrop to set red blooming plants on fire. Red will always look its most intense grown against it’s opposite: green.

Try it at home by combining ‘Tiny Tim’ euphorbia (zones 6-8) and ‘Red Emperor’ or ‘Madame Lefeber’ tulips (zones 3-8). You can also swap the tulips for some beautiful red roses.

Quick Tip: If you’re enjoying these color combinations, check out my post about how to combine plants in your garden.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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Complex Color Schemes

Complex garden color schemes are the most, well, complex of the schemes. Basically, we’re combining the first two garden color schemes together! Yay, more color! This color scheme lets you use a wider range of colors without creating chaos.

Despite being complex, this is the most popular of the garden color schemes! It literally is the difference between professionally designed gardens and ones that look amateurish. If you can edit down your wild and crazy color scheme to a complex color scheme, you will notice such a huge change in the harmony of your landscape. It’s the “little” tweak that makes all the difference!

A complex complimentary color scheme consists of 3 colors next to each other on the color wheel (analogous) contrasted with the color opposite them (compliment). This amazing color scheme combines the harmony of similar colors with the pop and excitement of their complete opposite. For example, combine blue, violet & purple with their complimentary color: amber.

Ready for my favorite complex color scheme?

Blue + Violet + Purple + Amber

Complex Garden Color Scheme with blue, violet, purple and amber
Complex (Blue, Violet, Purple and Amber) Garden Color Scheme – Image Credit

What a stunning combination this makes. Keep most of your plantings in the blue and purple color range. For a fiery pop of interest, add in the amber (yellow-orange) here and there!

To try this one at home, combine ‘Holland Sensation’ Allium (Zones 4-8), ‘Bowles’ Mauve’ Erysimum Wallflower (Zones 6-9) and Campanula Bellflower (Zones 5-8).

Using white in the garden

You may have noticed that white isn’t on the color wheel. So, you’re probably wondering how white plays into these color scheme concepts. You can use white to highlight focal points at the end of a path, too. I’ve seen a lot of really beautiful gardens that just use white blooms and that’s it. Using *just* white and no color is a very popular practice in “traditional” style gardens.

White is actually the absence of color, which means that you can use it with almost any color scheme. What makes white so diverse is that it brings out the true hue of any color that you pair it with. So, if you place a white flower next to green and it takes on a greenish tinge. The same thing happens with yellow, pink or blue. On it’s own, white would be be placed in the “cool” color temperature category. But, if it’s paired with a warmer color, it can take on the warmer tones, too.

Wrapping up

This article really covered a lot about garden color schemes and color theory. Using the color wheel you can see how primary, secondary and tertiary colors relate to one another.

Choosing a garden color scheme means using these colors in a controlled way in your landscape. You can plan a complementary, analogous or complex color scheme depending on the feelings you want to evoke in your garden.

If you’re having trouble deciding which colors to use, look to your wardrobe for cues. Choose a single color to base your garden design from.

Then, choose the feeling of your garden (peaceful vs. energetic) and decide on a style like cottage, traditional or modern. Over time you can build on your garden color scheme, but in the beginning keeping it simple is the best option.

Now that you have color theory and some garden color scheme examples, you should be well on your way to choosing a great color scheme for your own landscape.

To learn more about landscape gardening, you may like my post about Landscape Layering, the Garden Planting Pyramid or How to get started landscaping your yard.

Comment below and let me know what colors are in your garden. Did you follow color theory to decide on your garden color schemes or do you just go with your gut?

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garden color schemes pinterest image

Plant Combinations: How to make unforgettable plant pairings

Plant Combinations: How to make unforgettable plant pairings

Many beginner gardeners have a very difficult time creating plant combinations and putting an entire garden bed together. It can be overwhelming to determine which plants will look good together.

With that said, here are some of my favorite tips for combining plants so that you can have a beautiful landscape that is exciting and interesting all year round.

The biggest mistake when making plant combinations

The biggest mistake that I see beginner gardeners make is a lack of planning. If you are familiar with my blog, I probably sound like a broken record.

Planning is the key to developing a beautiful, exciting landscape.

When you choosing plant combinations, planning is especially important.

Throughout this article, I’ll show you time and time again how planning is the key to creating a beautiful garden.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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By the way, if you’re looking for some of my favorite plant combinations, be sure to download my free plant pairing guide. It features gorgeous and unique plant pairings that you can try right now in your own garden.

What feeling are you trying to evoke in your garden?

So, what are we planning for? When I’m planning my garden beds, I like to plan for the “feeling” I’m trying to evoke.

This is usually an easy question to answer, especially for beginner gardeners. And, it’s a great way to guide your decisions for choosing and combining plants.

What type of feeling do you want your garden beds to have? Is it a calm and peaceful garden that you relax in after a long day of work? Or is it going to be an exciting entertainment space with lots of fun activities?

What are you going to be using your space for? Is it just for you, or is it for entertainment or family time?

Can you think of some adjectives that you could use to describe the feeling or mood of your garden?

Here’s a few adjectives you can use for inspiration: Peaceful, calm, relaxed, restful, whimsical, playful, fun, energizing, exciting, spicy, inspired, romantic

collage of items for garden mood board.
In my Create a Garden Mood Board Workshop, we go into a lot of detail about how we want our gardens to feel… and what we can do to make it feel that way.

Depending on the adjectives you use, you will need different amounts of contrast in your plant combinations (more on this later).

For example, in a peaceful garden, you would not want to add too much contrast in your plant pairings and combinations. But, if your garden beds are feeling dull and you want to evoke a feeling of energy, you will be looking for ways to add a lot more contrast in your plant combinations.

Make sense? Great.

Next we’re going to talk about the important concept of contrast when choosing plant combinations. So remember your garden feeling adjective(s). No matter what word you chose, you will still need to think about all of the contrast elements we’re going to talk about. The adjective just gives you an indicator of how much contrast you need to have.

Using Contrast in your plant combinations

The biggest concept to understand when learning about plant combinations is contrast. Contrast is simply is the scale of how similar or how different two things are from one another.

You can use contrasting colors, textures, leaf sizes and plant forms to make stunning plant combinations for your garden.

infographic of how to use contrast when combining plants
The easiest way to combine to plants is by choosing contrasting features. Some of these features are color, texture, leaf size and plant form. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

In garden design, we use contrast to create harmony, flow and excitement in our plantings. I explain all of this (and much more) in my Design Your 4-Season Garden course.

When combining plants, the four types of contrast to consider are color, texture and leaf size and form (or plant shape) contrast.

I find that most beginner gardeners have the tendency to purchase one pretty plant at a time. While it may look beautiful at the garden center or nursery, when you get home, do you have a “place” to put the plant?

In other words… considering the OTHER plants you have, where does this new pretty plant fit in? Without thinking about this, over time your garden beds will become a big mismatched mess of exploding color, texture, leaf size and form. And this doesn’t look very pretty, unfortunately.

So before you purchase another “one off” plant, let’s explore the concept of contrast within the context of color, texture, leaf size and form.

Color Contrast

Color is certainly an important element in landscape and garden design. Using contrast, or lack of contrast, in color is one of the easiest ways to evoke the right feeling and create interesting plant combinations. Obviously when we create a garden bed we want to unite the plants within the garden using a common color scheme. Once we have set a common color palette, we can use a contrasting color to add more interest in certain areas. While you can easily add multiples of the same plant to create a color palette, there are also ways to combine plants that share a common color but not in the exact same way. This concept is called “color echoing.”

Quick Tip: I made an instagram story recently that will show you come examples of how I use color echoes in my own garden. You can watch it here if you have an Instagram account!

When combining plants with color, I urge you to think about color beyond just the flower or bloom. The thing about using the bloom color is that this goes away… in many plants within a week or two. So, try not to focus only on the bloom.

Instead, focus on the foliage of the plant. Some plants have dark green, green-yellow, grey-blue or even red foliage. The stems of plants are often a unique color that’s different from the rest of the foliage. Flip the leaf over, too.

Coral Bells - Heuchera
Quick Tip: Some plants have a different color on the underside of the leaf! Coral bells are a great example of this.

When using color, you want to ensure that most of your plants share a common color, or set of colors. Whether that is the “main” color of the plant you chose or not, is really up to you. Carrying the color throughout the garden bed is called a color echo. It gives the viewers eyes a way to “bounce” to different areas of the garden.

Quick Tip: Check out this post that goes into great detail about creating color schemes in your garden.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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Texture Contrast

Foliage texture is a more subtle way to combine plants in your garden. Plants have so many beautiful textures… from fleshy plump leaves to spikey ones, to furry ones to smooth and shiny ones.

Plant combination with contrasting texture

One of my favorite ways to use texture is through extreme contrast. A spiky grey plant (like sedum, hens & chicks or agave) next to a furry, fuzzy grey plant (like lambs ears) makes a stunning plant combination. It adds contrast and interest, even though the plants share the same color scheme! This is a more subtle way to create interest in the garden. Photo by PrettyPurpleDoor

When choosing textures in plant combinations, I like to make a note of what plants I reach out to touch at the garden center. Some plants have such an interesting texture that you instinctively want to reach out and feel it. It’s an element that you won’t notice until you get closer to the plants. Changing up the foliage texture and combining different textures together is a great way to draw people into your garden. They won’t be able to stop themselves!

Quick Tip: My post on plant texture explores how to create an amazing garden that you HAFTA touch!

‘Red Ruby’ cabbage add a ton of texture, a cool seasonal vibe and a bit of whimsy to the spring garden bed. Here they are keeping company with ‘emerald blue’ creeping phlox (zones 3-10), pansies (annual), golden feverfew (zones 3-9) and vinca minor (periwinkle) groundcover (zones 3-9).

Photo courtesy of @potagerblog on Instagram.

Leaf Size Contrast

Another common mistake I see in home gardens is a lack of contrast in plant leaf size.

an easy way to create a beautiful plant combination is to combine two plants that have very different leaf sizes. It’s amazing how much impact this can have. When you have a garden that has a lot of different plants but the foliage is all kind of the same, it’s hard to discern where one plant ends and another begins.

An easy way to “check” for this in your own garden is to snap a photo, then turn it to black and white.

Fixing Plant Texture with Black and White Photos
As you can see, when you eliminate color from the equation, you will be able to see whether or not you have enough texture. The photo on the top clearly does not. But, by adding a few contrasting plants, the combination becomes much more interesting.

If you begin to mix in plants with VERY different leaf sizes (large leaves vs. small leaves), it creates more separation. You can see this in the photo on the bottom. I added a different leaf size with the large leafed plant at the bottom of the photo.

I go into more detail about leaf size in this article about plant texture.

I also added a different plant form with the mounding yew… but more on that next :).

Can you see how this creates a much more interesting plant combination?

Form Contrast

Form is another aspect of combining plants that can really add contrast to your garden. Think about the overall shape and form of the plant.

Here are some of the common plant forms you can consider.

Hand Drawn Plant Forms
All plants can be reduced to a simple form, such as mounding, rounded, vase, horizontal, spikey, weeping, oval, pyramidal and more. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

What form could you pull into the garden bed that would contrast with the form of your other plants?

For example, in your foundation plantings you may have several evergreen shrubs that are a rounded shape. This is a great way to create a cohesive look, but it quickly gets boring. So, how about adding a shrub with a different form into the mix?

I find that spikey, weeping, oval and pyramidal plant forms are a bit underused, myself.

Blue point junipers have a vertical column-like form.

Quick Tip: Pencil Point Juniper (Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’) has a very vertical column-like form. It would definitely pack a punch in a grouping of rounded junipers, making it a great plant combination to try. Photo courtesy of Washington State University.

Check out more narrow, vertical trees you can incorporate into your garden.

When creating plant combinations, you can also use the shape and form of the foliage of the plant for ideas.

Some shrubs have tiny little leaves on it, like the boxwood or inkberry holly.

Other shrubs have bigger, wider leaves like the ninebark.

So, if you have a few boxwoods that are blending together a bit too much, try slipping in a ninebark to break up the leaf shape.

If this topic is really interesting and exciting for you, definitely check out my free Plant Form Printouts download. Print & cut out the plant forms, then arrange them over a photo of your garden bed to find the perfect design layout.

Bringing it all together

The key to creating plant combinations is using contrast in the color, texture or form of your plants. The KEY to doing this right? Make sure your plant combinations do NOT have major contrast in all three areas.

  • If choosing a contrasting color, it’s best to choose plants that have a similar form and/or texture.
  • When introducing more textures, keep the color or the form of the textured plants similar.
  • When improving a “blobby” area of your garden, consider adding a plant with a much different leaf size than the rest of the grouping. This subtle trick can have a big impact.
  • When contrasting plant forms, keep them in the same color scheme and/or a similar foliage texture.

Remember your “feeling” adjective from earlier? This can help you determine how much contrast you should be adding to your garden. By using contrast in your plantings color, texture, leaf size and form, you’ll begin to combine plants in your garden like a pro. No more boring, cookie-cutter gardens, here!

Wrapping up

There are a lot of different ways to create interesting plant combinations in your garden. With the right combos, you can create a cohesive look in your garden with both color echoes and contrasting focal points of different colors, textures and forms.

The first step to combining plants is to determine that feeling that you want your garden to evoke. Your “feeling” will give you cues to how strong/subtle to make the contrast in your plant combinations.

Use color, texture, leaf size and form to choose plants that are similar to one another. Then, choose plants with opposing colors, textures, leaf sizes or forms to add more contrast and create focal points to your garden.

Remember that not everything should contrast. There has to be some continuity. So, make sure the plants in your garden have some similar features, too. This will ensure you maintain the unity and flow of your garden beds.

If you want to learn more about combining plants and creating a garden with interest in all 4 seasons, check out my Design Your 4-Season Garden course.

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Landscape Layering: How to Create an Amazing Landscape

Landscape Layering: How to Create an Amazing Landscape

If you’ve ever drooled over glossy magazine articles, awe-inspiring Instagram feeds or curated Pinterest boards of gorgeous gardens and wondered, “how’d they do that?” you are going to love landscape layering.

Landscape layering is using a wide variety of plants arranged into a staggered foreground, middle-ground and background creating casual, mixed border planting.

When layering a landscape, design principles such as repetition, scale, flow and depth are used to create a intentional and dynamic garden design. Layering plants, trees, shrubs, grasses, vines and groundcovers in multiple rows using design principles as a guide is what sets magazine-worthy gardens apart from the average home garden.

But, if you’ve ever tried to do this yourself, I’m sure you’ve already realized that it’s not that easy to accomplish. I struggled to create a beautiful garden for over 6 years trying to make sense of books, articles and videos about garden design before I figured this out.

So, first things first, grab your FREE Master the Mixed Border Guide & Checklist so you can follow along with this post. You’ll get my illustrated 8 step guide, a printable planting pyramid and a checklist that you can use to make sure that you don’t forget any of the steps!

8 Steps to a layered landscape

Can you relate?

  • You love plants, but you have no idea how to make your landscape look beautiful.
  • You live for that moment at the garden center when you spot a plant you’ve never seen before… and immediately put it in your cart!
  • Your garden looks great for a week or two, but always reverts back to a messy blob of stuff.
  • You’ve felt like you’re garden isn’t “full” enough, but when you planted more plants, it didn’t help (or made things worse/messier).

I know I can…

No matter what I did, my garden was still missing something. I literally squinted my eyes to try to SEE it. How come, even though I had dozens of amazing plants, my garden didn’t look like the pictures in my magazines?

landscape layering
This Soothing backdrop contrasts tall, upright evergreens and prickly conifers with mounded perennials and wispy grasses. (from BHG)

What I always thought was a lack of stuff in my garden… was actually a lack of layering. And, once you learn this you’re going to be like 50 steps ahead of everyone else. 

I like to call it landscape layering.

To start understanding layering a bit more, let’s first take a look at my handy-dandy Garden Pyramid for planting.

The Landscape Layering Garden Pyramid

The Layered Planting Pyramid

It’s easy to understand landscape layering when you look at this garden pyramid. Start at the top and work your way down. Add more of each type as you go.

Following this garden pyramid is going to change your garden from looking really amateurish to being garden magazine-worthy. Trust me. This is a great guide to help you create a layered landscape that’s lush and beautiful.

By the way, there’s a list of links to articles about each layer of the planting pyramid at the bottom of this post so you can read more.

Is your garden missing ANY of the categories from the pyramid? Or is there a lack of balance (like lots of evergreens, not too many flowering shrubs and no groundcovers)? This pyramid will give you an idea of how many of each you need.

If you start at the tippy-top with 1 tree and 3 evergreen shrubs, how many deciduous shrubs would you need? Obviously more than 3, right? As you work down the pyramid you should include more and more of each type of planting.

Often times, a messy border or a feeling that there’s a lack of “stuff” in your garden bed, is caused by missing a layer of this pyramid (extra hint: it’s usually evergreens).

Once you have all the layers and correct ratios, you need to make sure you are mixing them together properly. Creating these diverse layers of a variety of plants in your garden will give you that “magazine” garden look. This is how landscape layering works!

ebook mockup pdf download

Designing Landscape Layers eBook (Brand New Version 2.0)

Get the layered, 4-season landscape of your dreams with this instant-download eBook. 110 pages.

Key Principals of Landscape Layering

There are a lot of principles of landscape design and this is a subject that I can talk about for hours. So, If you are already interested you may want to grab the eBook I wrote about designing landscape layers. It has a ton of great examples and way more detail than this post does.

Here are few design principles that will help you get started with layering:

  • Repetition: Repetition can be used in landscape layering using groupings or “Drifts” of plants. You can also use a similar color and different plants to achieve repetition.
  • Scale: The scale, or sizes of plants you use is important. In addition, the scale of the garden bed in proportion to the rest of your property plays a part.
  • Flow: How does one area of your landscape tie into another? Are you playing connect the dots with different flower beds or are they connected in some way?
  • Depth: Do you have your plants lined up like soldiers in their beds, or are they staggered in front and behind one another? Using depth is an important part of landscape layering.

Now let’s talk a little more in-depth about each.

Repetition in Landscape Layering

Consistency in your layered garden design is really important. Repetition can be created by repeating a specific plant, a specific color or a specific plant feature. When you repeat plants, colors or features, it gives your garden a more cohesive feel.

Repeat a Specific Plant

Think about how the plant would look if it were a mass planting (like a group of 3, 5, or 7 of the same plant). Planting a “drift” of plants creates a lot more impact than just spotting one plant here and there.

Repetition in Landscape Layering
Repetition of plant type (round evergreen shrubs) unites this garden and makes you want to walk down the path.
Lost Horizons Nursery, Acton Ontario

You can see in the photo above how the repetition of the round, evergreen shrub guides your eye down the pathway.

Repeat a Specific Color

You can also achieve repetition by choosing different plants in the same color family, such as light green, yellow, or even pink! Repeating the same color (even if the textures and sizes vary) will give a similar effect as repeating a single plant. It helps your eyes to bounce across the landscape and makes everything feel more connected!

Repetition in Landscape Layering
The repetition of magenta in this garden design ties it all together. By anneclarkdesign

Repetition of color (hot pink blooms) in the photo above makes your eye flow down the path.

Repeat a Specific Plant Feature

How about using several spiky plants or other plant textures, or selecting several shrubs that have horizontal branching structure? By mimicking the features of the plant, you are creating repetition.

Quick Tip: using repetition when arranging plants in your landscape can also create unity and flow. By using a specific plant throughout the entire landscape, you can control how someone’s eye will flow across your landscape.

Using Scale in Landscape Layering

Scale is very important garden layering technique for arranging plants in your landscape. It determines how many plants you’ll use and what sizes of plants you’ll need. This means using scale to determine the proper plant size, using varying sizes of plants and using enough plants for the size of your landscape.

Using the Correct Size Plants

Make sure that your plants will fit into the area when they are full grown.  It’s important to use large enough (or small enough) plantings for the space you are putting them in. Don’t shove stuff into every crack and crevice like I did. You’ll end up with an overgrown mess. But, don’t space your plants too far apart either! Your plants should touch each other to create a lush border.

Using Varying Sizes of Plants

Straight Path with Mixed Garden Borders in blues and purples
At Parham House & Gardens, West Sussex, a mixed border of blue and purple blooms with varying sizes and shape makes the design flow. Mark Wordy (CC BY 2.0), via Flickr.

Changing up the size of each plant will create visual interest. Using a low, wide shrub next to a tall, narrow tree will accentuate the features of each plant.

My free plant pairing guide goes over lots of plant combinations that will bring out the best features of really unique plants.

Using Enough Plants

Make sure you’re filling up the space with enough plants for the size of your house and yard. If you don’t use enough plants, your landscape will look a bit scarce and disconnected. Honestly if you are like me I doubt you’ll have any problems FILLING the space… but I wanted to throw this in here, anyway.

Creating Flow in Landscape Layering

When layering your plants in the landscape, you’ll want your plants to flow and you’ll also want your garden beds to flow from one of the next. Creating proper landscape flow involves combining your garden beds together, extending your beds out from your foundation and nestling your house into the landscape.

You should think about your landscape as a whole. And… yes that means you’ll have to do some planning, first.

Quick Tip: If you’re struggling with flow, read my article about unity and flow to learn more.

Stop “Zoning Out” Your Property

Try to resist the urge to create tiny “zones” that are spotted throughout your lawn. For example:

  • this is my rose garden
  • this circle is where I put my tulips
  • over here is where I’ll put this tree
Illustration of poor landscape design

Here’s a typical foundation-hugging landscape with doo-dads scattered throughout. These people must have a ton of time to mow around all the little islands they’ve created.

(Illustration by Pretty Purple Door)

Connect Your Garden Beds

If there is a tree near your garden, why not encompass that tree into the planting area?

Instead of creating smaller areas or hugging your foundation like it’s your long lost grandpa, encompass landscape elements into garden beds.

Illustration of Good Landscape Design

This example has a much better flow and the scale of the gardens to the rest of the property is much more balanced. There is still plenty of lawn for the kids to play, too.

(Illustration by Pretty Purple Door)

Nestle Your House into the Landscape

Nestle your house into the plantings you are putting around it.  I know this can be a hard concept to grasp. Anchoring the corners of your home with larger plantings that make it look like it’s set “into” the landscape will help to create a better flow.

Quick Tip: Here are 5 more ways to create better flow in your landscape.

Mastering Depth in Landscape Layering

Finally, I think the most important part of a landscape layering is pretty much where the word “layers” comes from: DEPTH.

We know that there are many different types of plants you can use. Arranging your plants forward and behind one another is what will make your landscape feel cohesive and lush. This involves creating large garden beds (larger than you’re probably used to), so that you can incorporate a foreground, middle-ground and background layer.

Landscape layering - Gilded Mint
Notice the curves, layering of colors and laddering to give depth (from Gilded Mint).

What’s a Good Depth for a Layered Garden Bed?

Most garden beds, especially foundation plantings, are simply not deep enough. An easy way to improve the look of your landscape is to simply bring your garden beds out to at least 5-6 feet out from your home’s foundation.

If you have the space, make it even deeper than this! I have some beds that are even 10-12 feet. I find that the more depth that you have to create rows of plantings, the better off you are and the more choices you’ll have when choosing plants.

If you are short on space, it will be difficult to create layers. You’ll either have to choose a lot of small shrubs and space-saving trees, or find ways that you can expand the depth of your garden beds, at least in some places.

Create Depth with a Foreground, Middle-ground and Background

If you have the space, create a foreground, middle-ground and background. Tallest plants go in the back and the lowest growing plants go into the front of the garden bed. This is why you need so much depth in your garden beds.

Weave Plants in and out of the Layers

Weave plants in and out of the 3 rows of your garden
Weaving your plants in and out of their original rows creates a more casual look. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

Now, weave some of your middle ground plants into the background.

Or weave some of the smaller middle ground plants into the foreground.

This can be tricky because you don’t want to hide any of your plants, but offsetting the planting depth in a garden bed can give the illusion that there’s so much more going on in your garden.

Quick Tip: My post about arranging plants in your landscape goes into a lot more detail about creating depth and laying out your plants. There’s also lots of hand-drawn photos by yours truly!

Quick Tips for Layering your Landscape like a Pro

I’ve already hit on some of these points, but here are some examples of how you can achieve a beautiful layered landscape at home.

Don’t Hug the Foundation

This landscape uses different sized plantings. It also uses enough plantings for the size of the home. Notice how the landscape doesn’t just hug the foundation?

Use Repetition as Much as Possible

Repetition in Landscape Layering
Alternanthera Chardonnay weaving around annuals at The Greenbrier Resort

Repeat, repeat, repeat after me: I will repeat both color and types of plants in my gardens.

Compare & Contrast with Shape & Scale

A mix of shapes, sizes, and colors enlivens these conifers planted as a screen.
A mix of shapes, sizes, and colors enlivens these conifers planted as a screen (Fine Gardening).

Mix shape, size and color to enliven your landscape layering. Even though they’re all green, they’re different shades of green. Even though they’re all conifers, they’re all different heights and shapes and sizes.

Quick Tip: Learn more about balancing plants in a layered border in my post about symmetrical and asymmetrical balance.

Texture Is the Secret Weapon

Plant combinations with texture
Lots of texture contrast between ‘Blue Star’ Juniper, Sedum ‘Angelina’ and ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy’ Lambs Ears creates an interesting garden moment. Photo by Pretty Purple Door.

Play soft textures off of hard ones. Spikes against curves. Little needles against big ones. There’s so much texture in plants– use it to unite groups of plants, or to make one stand out. Texture is the secret weapon in a garden designer’s pocket. It can create so much more visual interest in a planting design.

Quick Tip: To learn more about texture, read my my post about creating a garden you ‘hafta’ touch by using tons of texture.

Wrapping Up

When creating an effective landscape using landscape layering, think about how the plants will look together as a whole. Follow the Planting Pyramid to stay on track with the amount of each plant you’ll need. Then let the concepts of repetition, scale, depth and flow guide how you put it all together.

My Designing Landscape Layers eBook and my Design Your 4-Season Garden course both go into more depth about all of these concepts of landscape layering. The course covers these layering principles in my own step-by-step framework. I’ve helped hundreds of home gardeners create their dream landscapes and I’d be honored if you joined me!

Remember that the most important part to successful landscape layering is to have a plan and stick to it. Don’t get caught up in all the hype when you see a new plant you don’t have. Instead, ask yourself: what am I going to plant WITH this? If you can answer that question, you are on the right track.

Keep Reading…

In my perennial garden plan, I’ll go over landscape layering and give you some suggestions for each of the 5 layers:
Layer 1: Ornamental Trees
Layer 2: Evergreen Shrubs
Layer 3: Perennial Deciduous Shrubs
Layer 4: Perennial plants and flowers
Layer 5: Groundcovers, Vines and Grasses

How to create an amazing landscape using layers
Don’t forget to pin this post for later!

More Gardening Posts You’ll Love

The Garden Pyramid for Planting Success

The Garden Pyramid for Planting Success

It’s easy to understand landscape layering when you use this garden pyramid for planting success. Start at the top and work your way down. Add more of each type of plant as you move down the pyramid.

My Garden Pyramid Guide will help you to visualize how many of each plant type you should include in each garden. I can’t even tell you the value for this one because you literally can’t get it anywhere else.

As we move down the garden pyramid from the narrow top to the wide bottom the number of each type of plant increases. Because the lowest-level plants are the smallest you can have more of them and use a greater selection!

Using this pyramid we’ll be able to create mixed borders in our favorite garden style. And, because the borders will be filled with a variety of plant types, your landscape will be brimming with interest all year round!

The Layered Planting Pyramid
It’s easy to understand landscape layering when you look at this planting pyramid. You need to start at the tippy top with some structure with trees and evergreen shrubs. As you work down the pyramid you can include more and more of each type of planting. Mixing all of these layers up in your garden will give you that “magazine” garden look.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

Powered by ConvertKit

Garden Pyramid Checklist

Following this garden pyramid is the key to taking your garden from amateur to magazine-worthy. I’ll go over some areas you should check when diagnosing your own garden.

Are you missing any layers of the garden pyramid?

First, take a look at the pyramid and make sure you aren’t missing any of these categories. Take note of any categories you are not addressing. Then, you can start to plan your garden to incorporate these layers.

Do you have the right proportions of plants?

You also need to make sure your planting is balanced. You should have more plants in the categories near the bottom of the pyramid than those at the top. You don’t have to be crazy accurate… this is just a guide. But you should have a lot more plants, flowers and grasses than you do shrubs. A lack of plant balance in the garden creates problems for many beginner gardeners.

As an example, lets say you have one tree and three evergreen shrubs. Well, that’s a great start and you have the bones or structure of your garden in place! Now, how many deciduous shrubs would you need? Obviously more than 3, right?

As you work down the pyramid you should include more and more of each type of planting.

Quick Tip: This post will give you more information about creating balance in your garden design.

Are you mixing the layers together?

Now, you’ll need to make sure you are mixing the layers of the garden pyramid together properly in your garden. This is how landscape layering works.

Your garden should have at least three layers: a foreground, a middle-ground and a background. Tall plants go in the back, medium in the middle and shorter ones near the front.

Once you have that down, you should try to “weave” plants in and out of the layers to create more depth. Move a couple shorter plants to the middle-ground. Some of the medium plants can move to the foreground… or even the background.

Mixing up the layers in your garden will give you that “magazine” garden look.

Quick Tip: To learn more about weaving your plants to create depth in your garden, read my post about landscape layering.

Can you create contrast and interest with plant texture?

This is another great way to add interest to your garden. As you are mixing up your plants, you can certainly plant multiples of the same together. Groups of 3, 5 or even 7 plants will create a lot of interest in the garden. But next to that drift, be sure to create some contrast with another plant.

You can create contrast by choosing plants of a different color. You can also look at the characteristics of the plant like the shape and form. Or the overall texture. Or the leaf size. Try mixing up these elements as much as you can to create an interesting layout.

Quick Tip: If you want to learn more about creating interest and contrast in your garden, check out my post about using plant texture.

Understanding Each Layer of the Garden Pyramid

I have complete posts on the blog about each layer of the garden pyramid. You can read, in detail, about each using these links:

Tips for Using the Garden Pyramid

  1. First put in the evergreens.
  2. Then plan the deciduous trees and shrubs
  3. Place the walls and fences.
  4. After that, the rest will fall into place.

Think about the following when you’re creating your layered landscape:

  • What is the plant’s overall form and how does it combine with other plants around it?
  • How will the plant’s branching structure and growth rate/full size affect affect nearby plants?
  • Will the plant’s foliage (leaves) contribute to the garden even when it’s not in bloom?
  • When does the plant bloom and what color are the flowers?
  • How will the flowers look with the colors of nearby plants and hardscaping?
  • Will the tree/shrub bark add color and interest during winter?
  • How does the tree/shrub bark texture combine with the rest of the garden?

Struggling to find the right plants to create amazing 4-season interest in your garden? I’ve got you covered. Keep reading to see some of my favorite example trees, plants, shrubs, flowers, vines and groundcovers that you can use in your landscape.

planting pyramid pinterest image

Keep Reading…

In my perennial garden plan, I’ll go over landscape layering and give you some suggestions for each of the 5 layers:
Layer 1: Ornamental Trees
Layer 2: Evergreen Shrubs
Layer 3: Perennial Deciduous Shrubs
Layer 4: Perennial plants and flowers
Layer 5: Groundcovers, Vines and Grasses

Wrapping Up

It’s easy to understand landscape layering when you look at this planting pyramid. Start at the top of the planting pyramid and work your way down. Add more of each type as you go.

As a rule of thumb, start with your evergreen trees and shrubs, then add your deciduous trees, shrubs and hardscaping (like fences and walls). After this, the rest will fall into place.

Have fun with the bottom of the pyramid, as this is where you can add the most color, variation and interest in your garden to create a beautiful, unique 4-season landscape with lots of layers.

More Gardening Posts You’ll Love

Improve Your Landscape in 5 Simple Steps (Beginners Guide)

Improve Your Landscape in 5 Simple Steps (Beginners Guide)

I’ve been teaching garden design for a long time now and I’ve noticed that most homeowners can tell when something is “off” in their landscape.

But, they usually don’t know what is off… or why it feels off… or how to actually fix it.

It’s definitely a frustrating problem to deal with. You can’t improve your landscape because you don’t know what needs fixing.

Instead of learning more, I find that most gardeners will brainstorm a bunch of excuses as to why they don’t love their landscaping…

I don’t have a clear vision for the space…
Nothing grows in this awful soil
The deer will eat anything I plant anyway...

The truth is that these excuses are all symptoms of the actual problem… that no landscape exists in a vacuum. So, in order to improve your existing landscape, you need to

(1) figure out what’s causing the problem and

(2) develop solution(s) based on your climate, conditions, personal taste and a level of maintenance that suits you.

Yes… I know it feels like a lot.

You probably need a hug and a glass of wine. Hit me up… I’ll be right over! Then, we’ll get to work!

Let’s walk through some common scenarios and my simple process for seeing your garden with fresh, new eyes 👀 (spoiler alert: this is the KEY to everything).

Then, you’ll be able to troubleshoot problem areas and come up with a plan to make your garden beautiful. Sound good? Cool.

Common Landscaping “Problem Scenarios” Facing Home Gardeners

Most beginner DIY gardeners I talk to are dealing with one of these common scenarios. They’re likely what’s stopping you from having the beautiful 4-season landscape you’ve been dreaming of. Which one do you resonate with?

Scenario 1: You bought a new home and have to deal with an existing, sucky landscape.

Even if you purchase a new home there are likely already trees, shrubs and hardscaping in place that you have to work around. Or maybe all of it is ugly landscaping that you wish you could change. Or you simply have a different style than the previous home owner.

Scenario 2: Your landscape used to be nice but over time, things went really south. Now you hate it.

If you’ve been living in your home for some time, maybe your landscape used to be beautiful and harmonious… but it certainly isn’t now. Perhaps over the years some plants changed in size or shape, trees grew up, or the harsh winters killed some of your plants and left you with lots of empty spaces to fill.

You’re left wondering what happened to your beautiful landscape. And, although you don’t want to start from scratch, you’re not sure how to tie the new plants into your landscape with what’s already there.

This scenario can be a bit more difficult to deal with than that of a new home owner simply because you’re attached to your home and the nostalgic moments you may have had in your garden throughout the years. But… no worries… it’s certainly fixable.

Scenario 3: You have a brand new house or no existing landscaping and you don’t know how to get started.

If you are starting with a blank slate, this post isn’t for you. Hop over to my article about landscaping from scratch to get help with starting from ground zero.

Or, if you’re ready to get it done right, you can dive right into my Design Your 4-Season Garden course. This will give you my step-by-step approach to designing a beautiful landscape that looks great all year… without all of the trial and error and years of waiting for your landscape to “eventually” look great.

Some good news:

Regardless of whether you’re updating someone else’s landscaping or trying to tame your own unruly garden, the approach is the same!

So how do you fix and/or expand upon your landscaping when you really don’t know… anything… about landscaping? Just follow my simple 5-step process.

And, if you are still feeling overwhelmed, I’ll share some other ways that I can help you at the end of this article.

Step 1: Edit the Noise

My advice to all beginner landscapers as you tackle a new landscaping project that feels really daunting, is to EDIT. As E.E. Cummings said,

“To destroy is always the first step in any creation.”

E.E. Cummings

So, editing is the very first thing you are going to do.

You have to destroy that familiarity blindness that makes us not actually “see” what’s going on. Only then can you see your landscape the way that other people see it. So, take a walk around your landscape and remove anything you possibly can.

This means removing all of the noise.

All of the garden tchotchkes, wind spinners, gnomes, fountains, benches, planters.

Remove anything that’s distracting that you can physically pick up and move. Set these items aside so you look at just the plants and the hardscaping (like walls, paths, fences, trellis, etc.).

And, that’s it for step 1. Not so bad, right?

Step 2: Remove Unnecessary / Dying Plants

remove the dead, sick and unnecessary plants

Removing ANY plants can be a difficult step for a lot of gardeners, including myself. That’s because gardeners (like us) are nurturers… caretakers.

And, I’m sure that with some extra TLC we can “save” our struggling plants and bring them back to life. Nurture is half the battle with gardening. But, trust me on this one and save yourself the headaches.

So, remove all of your unnecessary plants; i.e. plants that are half dead, plants that are struggling and even the plants you don’t really like.

I like to think that if you’re not killing plants, you’re not stretching yourself as a gardener

It may be hard to “destroy” your landscape, but you will feel so much better when it’s done. It’s kind of like decluttering your closet or your dresser drawers. Once you get rid of all the crap you’ll be able to find the good stuff.

You don’t want to be on the next episode of “Garden Hoarders” do you?

I’m just kidding, that’s not really a show… yet 🙃. 

Ok… we’ve gotten rid of all of our trouble plants… leaving lots of space for new plants and making things BEAUTIFUL!

Next, I’ll show you a trick for figuring out WHAT to improve.

Step 3: Take Pictures of Your Garden

Now that you’ve removed all of the garden accessories and the struggling and/or ugly plants, you need to take some pictures. This is a very fun and easy step.

From this day forward, your camera is your new best friend.

It doesn’t matter what type of camera you have. Whether it’s your camera phone, an old digital camera collecting dust in your drawer or even a polaroid.

Simply walk around your landscape and take photos of the parts in your garden that you feel could be improved.

If you’re trying to fix an existing landscape, the key is to break your landscape down into smaller pieces so its less overwhelming. Your camera will do this for you. So, don’t take pictures of your  whole garden, or even an entire garden bed. Just take pictures of sections of your garden beds. Closeups… if you will.

The other cool thing about “freezing your garden in time” is that it will eliminate all of the distractions around you. You know… the barking dog down the street, your neighbor popping over to chat… those weeds here and there that you will unconsciously begin to pull.  

All of these distractions are preventing you from really seeing your garden. But, once you take some pictures, you can really focus on your landscape and see it in a new way.

You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to look at your garden through photos when you have a few peaceful moments to do so.

You may be wondering what, exactly, you’re “looking” for in these photos. Well, let me show you!

➡️ Quick Check In: Are you feeling a bit overwhelmed?

👋Hi there… I see you! And, I know that feeling. Sometimes binge reading articles and watching zillions of gardening videos can make things so much worse. So I’m just here to remind you that gardening is supposed to be FUN!

Honestly, I didn’t start seeing success in my gardening efforts until I stopped piecing together all of the wildly differing approaches I found in gardening books, online articles and YouTube videos. 

As much as I love free resources (& create many of them myself), this hodgepodge learning didn’t get me ANY closer to realizing my dream garden.

So, if you’re tired of hearing different approaches and conflicting opinions and you just want to know the exact steps to take… please check out my online courses. I created them to cut through all of the online noise and give you a clear path forward so you can find success faster!

Step 4: Analyze Your Pictures

Analyze photos of your landscape
Turn your photos to black and white and use a colored marker to circle any boring, empty or blobby areas.

Next, you’ll need to print out the photos or pull them up on the computer so we you can take a good hard look at what you’re dealing with.

When I’m doing this step, I turn the photo to black and white. This sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Removing the color removes even MORE distractions. It will improve your focus. So, print (or photocopy) your photos so they are in black and white. Or, use a computer program or your phone to change them to black and white.

Then, just “go to town” and circle/highlight all of the parts of the photo that could use improvement.

Don’t overthink this.

And, I’m aware that you’re a beginner… so please don’t be worried about how you’re going to fix the areas you’re circling. Just circle anything that looks empty, drab, blobby or unappealing to you. This is more than half the battle!

Knowing exactly what areas to focus on is much less overwhelming than staring down an entire yard and trying to “guess” about what to do next!

Step 5 – Come up with a Plan

Now that you know what areas to focus on, you’ll need to come up with a plan of attack. As you’ve learned, turning photos to black and white make the problem areas of your garden abundantly clear.

Do you know why that is?

Because it shows you where you need CONTRAST. If you have too many plants of the same color, texture or form it blurs together and you lose the magic.

When you can’t distinguish shape and form in the garden, your eyes don’t have anything to focus on. It can be unsettling to look at a garden like this… and it’s likely why you don’t like your own landscape.

Adding Contrast

Choosing plants or structures that will contrast these “blobby” areas will bring more clarity to your garden. Here are a few ways you can use contrast in the garden:

  • Color contrast: Combine plants with dark colors and light colors. This can be through blooms (good) or foliage (better)/
    Note: color contrast can be effective (sometimes) but it definitely isn’t a fail-proof method as we learned with ‘black and white’ test.
  • Size contrast: Please little leaves next to big leaves
  • Texture contrast: Pair plants with fluffy foliage and spikey foliage
  • Form contrast: Put a vertical plant form next to a horizontal one.
infographic of how to use contrast when combining plants
The easiest way to combine to plants is by choosing contrasting features. Some of these features are color, texture, leaf size and plant form. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

Quick Tip: If you want to learn more, check out my article on using texture in the garden.

The Secret to Beautiful Landscapes

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The key to a beautiful landscape is not actually plants. It’s not color, either. It’s not the hardscape. It’s all the things. It’s what we call “harmony” in the design world!

It’s the bumpy, knotted, old oak tree standing tall and proud, even in the most cold and desolate days of winter. It’s the sound of ornamental grasses rustling in the breeze, stirring up the lovely scents of nearby sage and rosemary. It’s the pops of hot pink poppies in a sea of pale yellow dailies, inviting you to come over and join their party. It’s discovering a beautiful stone sculpture nestled deep into the forest green foliage around the bend.

Ah, harmony in the garden is like an absolute dream come true. Can you see it?

When improving your garden, try to consider the whole space when you make every choice. How do different elements combine & contrast with others? Try to come up with ways to accentuate the positives and diminish the negatives. Try to tie different areas together. Remember: no garden exists in a vacuum! So, you have to consider your space as a whole with every decision you make!

Quick Tip: If you’re ready to start planning your dream landscape, check out my online gardening courses to get a head start.

Finding the Perfect Plant

Always remember that the perfect plant will not ‘cure’ your landscape. When you start to look at your yard as a whole design, instead of as individual plants, that’s when you’ll start to understand that garden design is a form of art and a way to express your creativity.

Gardens are always evolving. They are 3D in nature and can be seen from all different angles in all different seasons. Trees grow up and create shade where there was once sun. Plants sometimes struggle and all of them will eventually die. Your own likes and needs will change. So, you’ll have to work on your landscape over time. And, as these things change you may need to revisit this list, again.

And, that’s the beauty and magic of gardening… so don’t let its impermanent nature discourage you! Create a space that’s as unique as you are. One that makes you smile when you see it. One that changes with the seasons and brings you joy and peace.

What’s Next?

Following the steps above, you’ll be able to uncover the “true” problem areas in your garden. Armed with a plan, you should be in a much better position to update your existing landscape!

If you enjoyed this article and you’re looking for the next steps, I’d highly recommend watching the 3 Gardening Secrets free video training or enrolling in my Design Your 4-Season Garden course.

Here are some articles that may help you, too:

Happy Gardening!


Learn 4 simple, actionable steps to improve your existing landscape, even if you're a beginner at gardening and don't know where to start.
How to start landscaping your yard when you don’t know anything – Pin it for later!
Soil Improvement Tips For Flower Beds

Soil Improvement Tips For Flower Beds

Is your soil wet or dry? Alkaline or acidic? Is it light and sandy? Heavy and high in clay? Before you put one plant in the ground, know what you’re dealing with. Learning about your soil and making soil improvements will help you to choose the right plants for your site, and make sure that your plants will be happy and healthy. No more black thumbs, here!

Soil Improvement Infographic

Soil Improvement 1: Test your soil

Improve your soil with a pH test kit

No idea what the properties of your soil are? There are a few DIY options as well as a way to send soil samples out for testing so you know what you are dealing with.

Send out your soil sample for testingFor a minimum fee you can give the Cooperative Extension System a sample of your soil and they’ll tell you the pH, organic matter content and nutrient levels. This page gives a state-by-state listing of the soil testing labs in the US. They can tell you everything you need to know how about to prepare and submit your soil sample for testing

Test your soil at home with a DIY test kit: I use this kit at home to test my soil’s pH, Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potash. What I really like about this particular kit is that it’s very easy to use and offers 40 tests (10 for each of pH, N, P and K). Since I have many garden sites on my property, I like to test the soil in each of my beds separately. The soil in my front yard by the road is much sandier and lacks more nutrients than the rich, black soil in my backyard in the shade. Not sure where to start? The pH level is the first and most important to check and will give you the most information to help you prep your soil.

Monitor your soil with this 3-in-1 soil meter: For ongoing monitoring of your soil, this little guy is super helpful for quick checks of your soil’s pH, moisture and sunlight levels. At less than $10, you may want to grab more than one soil meter– they make great gifts & stocking stuffers for all of your garden loving friends and family.

You can also check out all of my favorite products for watering and soil improvement in my Amazon Store.

Soil Improvement 2: Amend your soil

Amend your soil with compost to improve the quality

If you’ve sent out for a soil analysis, likely you will also receive recommendations for amending your soil that you can absolutely follow. For any DIYers out there, I’m just going to give a quick overview of the pH scale and what this all means.

The pH scale indicates acidity or alkalinity. A soil with a pH number below 7 is acid, while one with a pH above 7 is alkaline. Garden plants typically grow best in neutral or slightly acid soil (pH 7 or slightly below)

Raise soil pH with ground limestoneIf the pH is low (too acidic), you can raise it by using ground limestone. In 100 square feet of garden, 5 lbs of limestone should raise the pH between ½ – 1 full unit. I would work this in gradually and continue to test your soil with a meter to ensure you are on the right track.

Lower soil pH with sulfur powderIf the pH is high (too alkaline), using ½ lb of ground sulfur per 100 square feet of garden will lower the pH between ½ – 1 full unit.

Work with what you have: Unless your pH is wayyyy off, or you are trying to grow fruit, veggies or exotic plants, I would recommend working with the soil that you have rather than trying to modify it too much. Once you know what your soil levels are, it’s much easier to choose plants that will thrive in high and low acid.

Fun Fact: Adding limestone to your hydrangea plants will turn the blooms PINK. Adding sulfur will turn the blooms BLUE. If you have hydrangeas on your property, this can also be a good indicator of what type of soil you have without having to test anything ?

7 tips for choosing the RIGHT plants

This FREE guide has 7 key questions to help you pick the perfect plants for your landscape. Pop in your email below for instant access.

I hate SPAM and would never share your email. Powered by ConvertKit
Hey, since you’re already signed up for my emails, you may be interested in my Printable Garden Planner Kit. It includes 5 printable worksheets that you can use to plan and organize your landscape. Check it out here.

Soil Improvement 3: Replenish your soil

Soil Improvements: Replenish your soil with compost and bone meal

No matter what your soil’s composition, it’s very beneficial to replenish your soil by adding each year. This replaces any nutrients that have been absorbed by your plants, and helps them to continue to grow and thrive. In early spring, spread 1-2” of organic matter over your garden soil.

What exactly is organic matter? This can be any nutrient-rich material such as compost, manure, topsoil, peat or even grass clippings. Using a small rake or hoe, work this into the existing soil around your plants. Be extra careful not to disturb anything you’ve already planted, especially smaller plants and bulbs under the surface of the soil!

At the end of the growing season when I’m doing a little fall cleanup, I like to add bone meal to my gardens to replenish nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. 1 lb of bone meal is enough to spread across 100 square feet of garden beds. Don’t overdo this! About a tablespoon of bone meal is enough fertilizer for 1×1 sq ft, such as a large planter pot.

With the addition of the organic matter and bone meal each year, your soil will be in much better shape to grow beautiful plants than if you were to do nothing at all. If you’re finding this information useful, you should check out my Garden Planning Bundle, which will give you all the tools you need to plan the perfect landscape.

Soil Improvement 4: Add Mulch

Soil Improvements: add mulch to your garden

A thick mulch, about 3-4 inches deep of wood chips, compost or shredded leaves each year protects your landscaping investment and the environment.

Benefits of mulch

  • Makes your garden look neat, tidy and professional
  • slows topsoil erosion
  • provides nutrients for plants while protecting their roots
  • prevents weed growth in your gardens
  • saves water by keeping the soil cool and moist.

With the right amount of mulch, you’ll only need to water most of your established plants during extended dry spells. Renew the mulch each year– after you’ve divided any plants that need it.

Types of Mulch

There are many different types of mulch available, and it comes in several colors to suit your design needs.

Personally, I use the basic shredded wood mulch in my gardens. Wood mulch breaks down after 1-2 seasons and requires re-application. It can be purchased as wood chips and tree bark nuggets in pine, cedar, cypress and other hardwood mixes.

Rubber and other non-wood mulch is permanent than wood mulch but does not improve the soil structure. This type of mulch is great for playgrounds and walking trails, as it protects the soil and provides bounce underfoot.

Here are some other types of mulch you can use:

  • Pine needles increase soil acidity, making them ideal for use around acid-loving plants.
  • Pine straw and wheat straw help control soil erosion on slopes. Hay and straw mulch may harbor weed seeds.
  • Decorative rock provides excellent weed control and can be used as a mulch around plantings. But, don’t use stone around acid-loving plants as it may add alkalinity to soil.

Not sure how much mulch you need? This mulch calculator can help you to figure it out!

Get the best price on mulch

Buying mulch at the best price: Several times in the spring, bags of mulch (2 cu. feet) goes on sale at the big box stores at 5 bags/$10. I would wait until you can get a deal like this before purchasing your mulch. Keep an eye out for these sales in April and again around Memorial Day and 4th of July.

You can also purchase mulch in bulk from a local company that sells topsoil, such as Mr. Mulch or even Home Depot. I’ve even found listings for truckloads of mulch on Craigslist! Most places will have a minimum amount you need to purchase in order for them to deliver it. Mulch purchased in bulk is sold by the cubic yard so make sure you take that into consideration when ordering. If you’re ready to start creating your own dream landscape, check out the Ultimate Garden Planner bundle filled with even more gardening tips and planning sheets so you can keep track of all this stuff.

Soil Improvement 5: Add Water

Watering regularly will improve your soil

The best way to determine the amount of water needed is to purchase a rain gauge. There are many different kinds available, but here are my recommendations for a basic one, and a high-tech one:

Using a rain gauge, you’ll be able to determine how much rainfall you’ve had. If Mother Nature doesn’t provide at least an inch of rainfall in the week, you can help out your garden by providing enough irrigation to bring the weeks total up to 1 inch.

So how do we calculate this? Your plants and trees need about 1/2 gallon of water each week for every square foot of garden area. So, if your garden is 20 square feet, it needs about 10 gallons of water each week, or 2 waterings from a 5-gallon bucket.

Ex: 20 sq. ft. x 0.5 gallons/sq. ft. = 10 gallons

An easy way to figure this out, is to time how long it takes to squirt your hose into a 5 gallon bucket. Make sure you are spraying the hose at the same strength and speed that you would if you were actually watering your garden. Now you know the amount of time it takes you to provide 5 gallons of water to your garden. So, if you need to add 10 gallons of water to your bed, water it twice as long as it took you to fill your bucket.

There are more accurate equations that can be used to calculate the amount of water needed based on the amount of rainfall, but who has time for that?? A good rule of thumb is if there is a 1/2 inch of reported rainfall, water for about half the time you would for a week with no rainfall.

Soil Improvements for flower beds - Pinterest
Don’t forget to pin this post for later!

Wrapping Up

Prepping and caring for your soil is the first step to having an amazing landscape full of lush gardens. And with a little bit of planning, those lush gardens will practically take care of themselves! You are well on your way! My goal is to provide time saving tips and tricks for people I like to call “weekend gardeners”. Likely you and are both weekend gardeners. We both love gardening but have busy lives. Which means we have limited time to tend to all of this stuff.

That’s why I like to garden to solve problems rather than creating more problems.

Why I design gardens within my landscape:

  • to increase my home’s property value (improving curb appeal can increase home values up to 15%)
  • to give myself, friends, family and neighbors something to beautiful enjoy
  • to guide visitors to the right entry points/locations within my yard
  • to hide eyesores I don’t want to look at
  • to eliminate hard-to-mow areas (like edges of the lawn and steep hills)
  • to improve my lifestyle (like creating a shady garden spot to sit and read a book)

I created this garden planning bundle to give you all the tools you need to create a beautiful, professional-looking landscape.

Let the good thymes roll,


More Posts to Up Your Gardening Game

Choosing the Right Tree For Your Front Yard

Choosing the Right Tree For Your Front Yard

Finding the perfect front yard tree can be an overwhelming and difficult process. With so many options and so many factors to think about, how can you be sure you’re making the right choice?

Choosing a front yard tree will impact your curb appeal and property value. Consider factors like aesthetic appeal, purpose, ecosystem/wildlife benefits, size, shape, root system, overall heath and disease resistance.

After going through the process when choosing my own front yard tree, I’ve put together some tips that may help you find the best tree option for your own front yard.

Cornus Florida dogwood
This multi-stemmed bi-color dogwood is white and pink because it is a grafted tree and a root sucker from the rootstock (the white flowers) has been allowed to grow up with the part of the tree from the scion (the pink flowers).

This is the biggest question to ask when choosing a front yard tree. And the answer may be two or three-fold.  Some “purposes” to consider:

Trees that Provide Shade

If you want a shady spot to sit under, you’ll need to choose a tree that is larger and likely faster growing. If the tree is slow-growing, you may not be around to enjoy the shade of it’s canopy. However, faster-growing trees can come with their own issues like more aggressive root systems that can affect your home’s foundation or pipes. Faster growing trees can also be more susceptible to disease(s) and limb breakage. It’s very important to do your research before selecting a shade tree.

Some medium sized trees are also appropriate to use as shade trees in your front yard. Be sure you select a tree with higher limbing tendencies. If you choose a tree that starts branching 14″ from the ground, you’ll never be able to sit under it.

Trees that Create Privacy

Are you trying to block your bedroom window from the neighbors view, or hide an ugly view FROM your window? You’ll need to choose a very full tree whose limb height will be sure to match up with the height of your window.

If you are looking for privacy, you may need to search for an evergreen or conifer tree. This type of tree, like a pine tree, will not lose it’s needles in the winter months. I have several articles about narrow evergreen trees and evergreen shrubs if you’d like to learn more about trees used for privacy and screening.

If you have a considerable privacy issue, take a look at my tips for regaining privacy from second story neighbors.

Trees that Attract Wildlife

Do you want your tree to attract birds, butterflies or other animals? This can be a great way to enjoy some bird watching and help your local ecosystem.

The easiest way to attract wildlife is to select a tree that is native to your location. Try googling “native trees of Pennsylvania” or whatever state you live in. Native trees play a very important role in providing food, shelter and habitat to the local wildlife.

Learn more about native vs. invasive plants and trees.

Trees with Aesthetic Appeal

There’s no denying that trees that you choose for your front yard need to have aesthetic appeal. But there are so many different characteristics of trees that in can be hard to really determine what to pay attention to. So, here are some things you should consider once you have a few tree options in mind. Compare your options to see which tree is the best fit for you.

Shapes of Trees

There are many different types of tree habits, or forms, such as weeping, conical, pyramidal, vase-shaped, oval, upright, broad-headed, erect, fastigiate, bushy, shrubby, nodding, spreading, wind-shaped and more. What looks prettiest to you?

illustration of tree habits and forms
Illustration of tree habits and forms (source unknown)

There are several terms used to describe the shape, form or habit of a tree. This particularly describes the direction that the branches of the tree will grow. 

  • Spreading: horizontal sprawling branches, usually wider than high.
  • Compact: tending to grow tightly and close together within itself.
  • Upright/Erect: distinct upward growth, vertical configuration.
  • Weeping: long, narrow branches which tend to droop downward.

When you buy a tree at the nursery, it may not look exactly like it will when it matures, so it’s important to find out how big the tree will get and how the branches will spread.


If you’d like to select a flowering tree, decide on the color of the blooms and what season you’d like it to bloom in. While many trees flower, there are a lot that only flower for a very short time. So also consider how long the tree stays in bloom for.

Make sure you also find out how the tree smells… I know that’s weird, but some trees (such as pear trees) have a really unpleasant odor. Some flowering trees (and flowers in general) are too fragrant for my taste. In addition, some flowers attract pesky insects or bees so you’ll want to consider that if you’ll be walking by your front yard tree each day.

Foliage / Leaf Color

Do you like leaves that will change color in the fall, or leaves that remain green? Do you want something that will keep it’s color, even through the winter? If so, you’ll have to choose an evergreen.

Tree Bark

I think this is a really important consideration when you’re choosing a tree for your front yard. This is especially true if you’re selecting an ornamental, deciduous tree. This means that the tree will lose its leaves in the winter months if you get cold weather. So, your tree may be bare for a majority of the winter months. It’s important to consider what the tree will look like when it’s naked.

Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry Tree in Winter
This is what the Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry tree looks like in the winter months.

Some trees, like the birch, have amazingly showy bark that peels and looks really neat. Other trees have a craggy, gnarled looking trunk… which a lot of people like, but others really don’t.

The key is to do some research about the tree’s bark, trunk and branching structure (more on this below) to see what appeals to you.

Trunk and Branching Structure

Some trees have a single stem branching structure, while others have multiple stems (or some trees have both options). A lot of times the multi-stem options look more like a shrub, while the single trunk options look more like a tree. Multi-stem options sometimes are created due to grafting the branches onto the trunk near the base, and this can result in some really neat hybrid trees (such as the dogwood to the right that has both white and pink flowers mixed together!)

Seasons of Interest

If you have a small yard like I do, you’ll want maximum impact.  I would advise finding a tree that will flourish over several seasons, like my Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry.

Quick Tip: You may want to read my post about landscape layering to better understand this concept.

Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry, PrettyPurpleDoor.com
The Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry boasts 4 season interest. From flowers to berries to firey red to beautiful bark, this tree gives you a lot of bang for the buck. Buy it here or check out my full post for more info on this awesome 4-season front yard tree.

But, interest in every single season may not be your main priority. Maybe you’d prefer something that blooms in late summer, because that’s the time of year that your garden needs a punch. Or maybe you are looking for something that will bloom in conjunction with other plants in your garden? Maybe you just want something that will provide a backdrop for other plantings? It’s really up to you, and your individual needs.

Other Considerations When Choosing a Front Yard Tree

Beyond the c

Tree Size when Full Grown

The most important thing to consider is how much space you have for your tree.  Sure it looks cute now, but how big will it get in 30 years? Do you have the appropriate space for that type of growth?

Tree Root Systems

A good rule of thumb is that a tree’s root system can be 1-2 times the size of the canopy of your tree. So if you choose a tree that’s 20′ high x 20′ wide, the root system of this tree can be 20-40′ wide. So, you’d have to plant this tree at least 50′ from your home.

If you plan to plant the tree close to your home, make sure you choose a tree that’s an appropriate size and that has a non-invasive or contained root system. Root systems of trees are NOT created equal. Some tree have very shallow and non-invasive root systems. Other trees are known for having very destructive roots.

There are many horror stories across the internet of people who chose the wrong tree for their space and ended up with a significant amount of damage and extensive repair costs. So be sure to consider this important factor.

Trees with extensive, aggressive root systems can do some damage to your home’s foundation or even the sewer and water lines that are running underground to your house.

Light Requirements

Will your tree get full sun, or be in a very shady spot? As a standard rule of thumb:

  • Trees requiring “full sun” will need 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
  • Trees requiring “full shade” should receive less than 3 hours of sun per day.
  • Trees requiring “Part Sun” or “Part Shade” conditions require somewhere in between 3-6 hours of sun per day.

Some smaller trees that you may be considering for your front yard are actually called understory trees. These are trees that grow underneath the canopy of large shade trees of the forest.

Many deciduous ornamental trees (like dogwoods) are understory trees and will grow best in the high dappled shade provided by taller trees. So, if your front yard is wide open with little canopy for shade, a dogwood is probably not the best choice.

Tree Maintenance & Care

When choosing a tree for your front yard, consider how much maintenance it will require. Some trees require special fertilizers, pruning and/or protection from weather and disease. Always seek out the advice of a certified arborist when you need to assess your tree.

First, decide if you are willing to keep up with the maintenance required for the tree you plan to purchase. Or, would you rather select a tree that requires less maintenance?

Determine if the tree is cold-hardy in your growing zone. If you get a tree that’s hardy in zone 6 and you live in zone 5, there’s a potential that the cold weather/frost in the winter months will severely damage or kill your tree unless you take a lot of extra precautions.

Pruning a tree can also be expensive and time consuming. This is especially true if you choose a tree that too large for your space. Many non-experienced tree-trimmers use a technique called “tree topping” which can be very harmful.

Growth Rate

Growth rates are a really tricky consideration when trying to choose a tree… especially for your front yard. Here are some factors to consider:

  • In general, trees that grow slowly are less prone to disease and breakage than fast growing trees.
  • Because the tree will be in your front yard, you may need to invest money to purchase a larger, older tree.
  • Planting and establishing an older tree is much more difficult than planting a sapling. Larger trees require more water and a lot more care and maintenance… at least for the first two years after transplanting.
  • According to the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants by Michael Dirr, author of 12 books and a professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia, tree growth rates are distinguished as follows:
    • slow growing trees: 1-12″ of growth per year
    • medium growing trees: 13-24″ of growth per year
    • fast growing trees: 25″+ growth per year

Native to your Region

Trees that are native to the region where you live tend to be the healthiest and will attract local wildlife like bees, birds and butterflies. So, do your research if you’d like to plant a native, healthy tree in your front yard.

Soil Conditions

Does it match up with the conditions of your soil? Well drained, clay, etc. Make sure you find a non-fussy tree or something that will thrive in your soil type…. or adjust the soil to your new trees needs before you plant.

Read my soil improvement tips and information about soil health.

Health / Disease

What kind of disease is the tree prone to?  Some trees are very prone to disease and some are very resistant.

Often times, hybrids of trees are created to give you the best of both worlds: the beauty of the one tree with the disease resistant characteristics of the other.

Hybrids kind of reminds me of a mom and dad tree having a baby tree. Don’t we all hope our kids will get the best of both parents, and grow up to be their own unique person with distinctive traits of their own?

One example is the Cornus Florida. These beautiful trees were under serious attack from insects and diseases in the 1970’s and the future of dogwoods used by landscapers was in jeopardy. 

To address concerns for use of dogwoods in landscapes, a plan was developed by Rutgers to cross-breed the native American dogwood (Cornus Florida) tree with the hardier Asian species, Kousa Dogwood (Cornus Kousa).

Cornus ‘Stellar Pink’ is a cross-breed the native American dogwood (Cornus Florida) tree with the hardier Asian species, Kousa Dogwood (Cornus Kousa). It was bred to be more pest and disease resistant than the Cornus Florida.

The result? A a new and unique hybrid tree, the Stellar Pink Dogwood.

Another example is the Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry tree (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’) which is a hybrid cross between two native serviceberries, namely:

  • Downy Serviceberry (A. arborea), and
  • Allegheny Serviceberry (A. laevis)

Resources for choosing front yard trees


The internet is a great source to get started. Go on an arboretum website, or just google “small tree for zone 5” or something along those lines. You’ll be well on your way to finding suggestions and forums where you can ask question. However, with online research you always need to be careful about misinformation. So, be sure that the website or person you’re getting your information from is reputable. A few things to check are:

  • Does the website have an about page and easy to find contact information?
  • Is the author listed on the article with his/her credentials?
  • Does the article cite information and sources… or is it purely opinion?

As I always recommend, create a Pinterest board of your favorites so you can go back to it.

Books and Magazines

Books and magazines about gardening can be a great resource when researching front yard trees.

I recently purchased a book called The Four-Season Landscape: Easy-Care Plants and Plans for Year-Round Color and just dove right in. I get tons of ideas from my new book, which I tend to carry around with me like a bible. It has a lot of suggestions for trees with 4 season interest (among many other landscaping suggestions). I highly recommend it, especially if you garden in the Northeast area of the U.S.

Here are some of my favorite gardening books and other resources.

Ask Experts

Seek out gardening experts in your community to get great tree advice and suggestions. A few places to look for experts are local reputable plant nurseries (not big box stores) and local botanical gardens or arboretums.

Contacting your local Master Gardener Extension will also put you in touch with trained volunteers that can assist you with all types of questions about gardening. Nearly all Master Gardener programs in the U.S. administer training through a state land-grant university and its Cooperative Extension Service. Extension Master Gardeners receive and recommend university and research-based information through the Cooperative Extension System

Ask Friends

You can also ask your friends for advice. If they live locally, they may have had good/bad experience with particular trees. Or, they may have mature trees in their yards already that you can go take a look at and see if you like them.  My biggest help was in speaking to an arborist friend of mine who maintains a national arboretum nearby. He was able to give me really good suggestions for our particular zone (Zone 6) and help me choose a tree that would grow easily, give lots of interest and actually “fit” in the small space I have. (Thanks Mark!)

Take a Walk in Your Neighborhood

I have a doggy, so we walk every day anyway. But take a stroll through your streets and see what others in your neighborhood are planting. I started my search in the winter so I was able to determine which I didn’t like once they lost their leaves. The spring is so beautiful! Every time I take a walk there are new trees blooming and other ones changing. It’s quite magical.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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Front Yard Tree Suggestions

Here are some small tree options that I would suggest if you have a small front yard. You can find your hardiness zone here. This will tell you which trees will grow in the weather conditions that you have in your particular region of the U.S.

Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry Tree

Multistemmed Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry
Multi-stemmed Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora)

A hybrid cross between native serviceberries, the ‘Autumn Brilliance’ Serviceberry is an ornamental tree that grows in full sun to about 20′ tall and wide. It can be purchased as a single-stem or multi-stem variety and is adaptable to most soil types. It’s also fairly drought tolerant once established.

Autumn Brilliance blooms VERY early with showy white flowers in late April before the foliage appears. Edible berries (juneberries) taste great and attract birds and wildlife in June. Great autumn color of fiery orange-red will light up your fall landscape. An attractive branching habit and silvery-grey bark truly make this a tree for all seasons. 

Full-Part Sun | 20-25′ H x 15-20′ W | Zones 3-8 | Buy it Here

Yoshino Cherry Blossom Tree

full frown Japanese Cherry Blossom Trees
Yoshino Cherry Blossom Tree (Prunus × yedoensis)

The Yoshino cherry is considered both a flowering tree and an ornamental tree because it’s typically planted for both its visual interest and profusion of white to pale pink spring flowers. An early spring bloomer, the blossoms arrive before the foliage of the tree even fills in. In the summer, this tree will remain a highlight in the yard because of its oriental branching pattern, glossy bark and dark green leaves.

Washington DC actually has an entire festival dedicated to this beautiful tree… also referred to as the Japanese Cherry Blossom Tree.

Buy it here or check out my detailed post all about this beautiful flowering front-yard tree.

Full Sun | 40-50′ H x 25-40′ W| Zones 5-8

Snowdrift Crabapple Tree

snowdrift crab apple tree
Snowdrift Crabapple Tree (Malus x ‘Snowdrift’)

The Snowdrift Crabapple’s is a beautiful, hardy ornamental tree with visual impact during all four seasons. The Snowdrift variety grows to about 15-20′ high and wide and can be purchased as a single stem or a multi-stem variety. It prefers a sunny location and can tolerate a lot of different soil and moisture conditions.

A tree that brings color and interest in all four seasons, Snowdrift has a dense, rounded foliage habit that adds to its  standout appearance year round. It can also be purchased as a multi-stemmed or single trunk tree.

In April-May, its pink buds form into snowy white blossoms. Glossy, deep green summer leaves change to yellow in the fall. 3/8″ -1/2″ round, orange-red crab apples will have birds flocking to your yard from late spring through the winter. 

Full Sun | 15-20′ H x 15-20′ W | Zones 4-8

Kousa Dogwood Tree

Kousa dogwood front yard tree
Kousa Dogwood Tree (Cornus kousa)

The Kousa Dogwood is a beautiful and hardy ornamental tree grows 15-25′ H and a horizontal branching habit that will extend this tree to about 25′ wide. The Kousa Dogwood can be grown in full sun, part sun or even shade which makes it a great choice for any home owner.

In spring, Kousa Dogwood bursts into action with showy white blooms that last from May to June. In late summer, Kousa produces an abundance of edible berries that can be used to make wine. The 1-2″ round pinkish-red berries have a nubby texture that also add interest. Purple to scarlet foliage adds intense interest to your fall landscape. And lets not forget its beautiful exfoliating bark and interesting branching habit that will stand out in any winter scene.

Full Sun – Shade | 15-25′ H x 25′ W | Zones 5-8

Bloodgood Japanese Maple Tree

Bloodgood Japanese Maple
Japanese Maple Tree (Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’)

The Bloodgood Japanese Maple is a features attractive foliage with burgundy red coloring turns brilliant scarlet in fall. The interesting red-black bark provides striking interest in winter. This slender, airy tree is well-suited for use as a small lawn tree or for patios and entryways. One of the hardiest of Japanese maples, with good sun tolerance. Deciduous.

Native to Japan, China and Korea Bloodgood Japanese Maple is a small ornamental tree that grows slowly to about 25 feet tall and wide. It’s a slender, airy tree making it a great option for a front yard tree that adds year round interest to any home landscape.

Bloodgood can be grown in full to part sun and prefers moist, well-drained lightly acidic soil. ‘Bloodgood’ is a very common form of Japanese Maple with excellent burgundy colored foliage year round. This tree shines in fall when its foliage turns bright red.

Full – Part Sun | 20-25′ W x 20-25′ H | Zones 5-9

Inaba Shidare Japanese Maple Tree

Japanese Maple 'Inaba Shidare'
Inaba Shidare Japanese Maple Tree (Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Inaba Shidare’)

The gorgeous ‘Inaba Shidare’ Japanese Maple is a small weeping tree that has a shrub-like appearance. In spring, the leaves are a deep reddish burgundy and only get more brilliant through the year. In fall, the leaves turn a bright fiery red.

Full-Part Sun | 10-15′ H x 8-15′ H | Zones 5-9

Japanese Lilac Tree

Japanese lilac tree (ivory silk)
Japanese Lilac Tree (Syringa reticulata)

Native to East Asia, the Japanese Lilac is a beautiful tree that grows to about 25-30′ tall and 20′ wide. It can be purchased as a single trunk or multi-stemmed tree (pictured above). It grows in part sun, but produces more blooms when provided with a full sun location. 

At its best in early summer, the Japanese Lilac blooms for about 2 weeks with huge (10″), fragrant creamy white clusters that are similar to lilac bush blooms but much larger. After the flowers fade, attractive seedpods will attract songbirds to your garden.

It’s attractive form, disease-resistance and non-invasive root system make this a great tree near a patio or porch where you can watch the songbirds and enjoy the fragrance up close and personal.

Full-Part Sun | 25-30′ H x 20′ H | Zones 3-7

Other Trees for your Front Yard

I have many other suggestions for trees in other articles. These are some of my favorite ornamental trees that provide 4-season interest. If you have a small amount of space, you may want to consider a narrow, columnar tree for your front yard. And if you want privacy, here are some skinny, evergreen privacy trees you may like.

View all of my articles about trees here.

And, if you’ve chosen your tree and you’re ready to tackle the next step in your landscape, check our my guide for landscaping your yard from scratch in 7 steps. Or, head over to this article if you’re just looking for ways to improve your existing landscape.

Wrapping Up

Deciding on the perfect tree for your front yard means you have to know what the main purpose of your tree. Consider things like shade, privacy and aesthetics. What makes a tree “look” pretty in your eyes? Is it a tree that blooms or bears fruit, the leaf color or texture, interesting bark or trunk structure, or maybe even the overall shape of the tree?

When choosing a tree for your front yard you need to analyze whether the tree will not only survive but thrive in that location. Is it native to your area and can it tolerate the sun and soil of your front yard? Do you have enough space for it to grow to its full size?

There are also many resources to find some excellent trees for your own yard. Try searching the internet, reading books and magazines, asking family and friends, or simply taking a walk to see what you like in your own neighborhood. Once you consider all of these important factors you should have no trouble deciding on the perfect tree.

This article was originally written in February, 2018 and has been updated to provide more robust and accurate information.

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